We start this weekend’s story in the middle of the story. From the wilderness study area in the southern part of the herd area, I got chased out twice by monstrous black clouds and threatening thunder. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen clouds that downright ugly. Walking around with a personalized lightning-bolt-attractor in the form of a metal monopod … not the smartest thing I’ve been accused of. The storms dropped rain in a very localized area – they came in sort of stationary “waves” and never passed out of the very east “pocket” of the basin, right inside the boundary ridgeline.
Fast forward to my drive into the main part of the basin. So far so good – until I hit the Spring Creek crossing! OK, so it’s not exactly clear, but it has to be indicative of more and possibly better water upstream (the point of this is that I think Spring Creek originates in the east). Any water in the basin is a good thing. All that grass in the east is going to benefit from the rain, too, and that benefits the ponies! So I got out of the Jeep and did a happy dance before I took some pix for documentation purposes.
This photo, like the one above, was taken from about the same spot – about mid-stream just downstream of the crossing. This one isn’t as dramatic as the first, but from the two pictures, you can tell that water is running in two “streams.” What you might not be able to tell is how gushy the mud gets when it becomes mud!
In the first photo, the darker soil right above the water is the high-water mark! It was about 2.5-3 feet above the arroyo. The water went about 8-10 feet away from the flat of the crossing, which is at the top of the photo. Before I went to the basin this weekend, I decided to take my mountain bike. I walked through the creek in my sandals, carrying my bike, and rode from there. Awesome!
But … I’m getting ahead of myself.
My weekend visit to the horses started at the county road across from the south meadow, where I spotted Cinch, then Bruiser. Hoping to find the others (band and bachelors) also in the meadow, I parked and hiked in. (A quick re-cap: David Glynn alerted me to the change in status of the pinto band and the “southside boys” bachelor band. I found them all last weekend, and Bruiser – band stallion – was definitely out, but it was hard to tell who had become king of the hill, err, band.) This Saturday, Cinch and Bruiser were on the south side of the arroyo that runs out to the road and just at the base of a little hill the horses pass to get into the meadow. So I hiked in on the north side of the arroyo, which provides more tree cover. My main goal was more observation of the new combined band, not photography, so I stayed out of their view until I reached the discreet little deer trail that leads up to the top of the hill north of the meadow. The rest of the horses were not in the meadow, so I went on up.
When I didn’t see the other horses from up top, I headed back down on one of at least two routes that takes the horses to the meadow – the “high” route that crosses the arroyo earlier (farther east) and skirts the hill on the south side of that arroyo. (Both trails take the horses to the better grazing on the south side of the arroyo.) The trail I took has a heights-defying spot that seems in imminent danger of eroding into oblivion. Any fall from there – maybe 15 feet? – would hurt horse or human.
At the edge of the trees above the meadow, I stopped to ready my camera in case the boys were still there. Ready to go and looked up to see two curious dark faces – Cinch and Bruiser. Cinch pranced around a little, but Bruiser was so calm, Cinch calmed down as well, and they posed for some pretty pictures. I took pix as I walked around them, and the thunder chased me back to the road.
It does help the more wary horses to have a calm compadre nearby. Bruiser walks OK, but I noted last weekend that he limps on his left front if he tries to trot. Cinch is sporting a “roached” look here. It’s longer and wispier than Roach’s was when his was roached, probably caused by his pals chewing on it.
My next likely area to search for horses is a big open area just south of the San Miguel/Dolores County line, also right off the county road. On first pass, I didn’t see any horses. But on the hillside just north of the big open: Seven’s band. They’ve done some traveling since the loss of the filly, from the east to the southwest part of the herd area.
Seven with Molly, center, and Roja. Old Molly is still a thin girl, but she’s sure to gain some weight without the filly nursing.
From where I stopped to see them, I spotted Corazon back in the big open (which does have hills and trees and arroyos). Perfect. Another big cloud was brewing in the east, but I was covered in sunshine, and the rain from the previous cloud hadn’t made it to my part of the herd area. So in I walked.
Hello! It’s always nice when the ponies find you! I was glad to see that once-bachelor David has been able to hold on to yearling filly Shadow, but I was a little worried about them being so close to the other band. And I worried that he’d tip my presence to the band. Not to fear on either account. They must have skirted past the band because I later saw them farther east, and the “new band” was still where I had originally spotted them.
Left to right noses at top: Spook, Kiowa, Reya, Chipeta and … drum roll, please … Copper, the mud-encrusted new king. Then Corazon (pinto), Mesa (bay) and Ty.
With top-of-the-heap status comes great responsibility. Copper’s guarding his new family from the bachelors, out of frame to the left.
Girls with spots. From left, mama Kiowa, her 2008 filly, Spook, 3-year-old Chipeta and Kiowa’s yearling filly, Reya. Very calm; very cool. And it was time to beat the thunder, so I walked away, leaving them very calm and very cool.
And that brings us back to raging Spring Creek.
I had spotted Steeldust’s band and the Bachelor 7 way around in the east at about the curve where the road heads south, so I headed that way by bike. It was way cool to get out of the Jeep and on the bike in the basin. I got off the bike at the washout. You could definitely see by the soil that it had rained hard back there. The horses didn’t seem to see me ride up, so I stood on the road on the other side of the washout until the bachelors saw me and alerted the band, then walked on down the road. They were up the hill away from the road … checked me out, then went back to grazing. A good problem to have, I guess!
Baby Storm was hammin’ it up, though, so I got some good pictures of the little boy.
By the time I got out to them, it was around 7ish – dinner time!
Pinon, left, is about 3 and a half months old, and Storm is about a month and a week old. Pinon has gotten a lot darker in the past few weeks.
No words necessary.
I thought I figured out what kind of flowers these are when they were blooming earlier this summer, but now I can’t remember and can’t find them in my wildflower book(s). They’re blooming – again – all over. (Notice the flowers in the previous pic with Storm. The flowers in this pic were at the edge of the little wash that leads out to the road washout. My bike was just on the other side of them.)
While I was watching Steeldust’s band grazing on the hillside, I spotted Bones, Poco and Bounce farther to the south. And that was Saturday. Really a fabulous day. The loss of the filly still bothers me, but humans who watch wild horses must adapt as they do. Always more to learn.
Sunday’s story is all about rain! I slept in the Jeep right inside the herd area boundary. Woke up around 1 a.m. after a dream that I woke up in the Jeep the next morning and it had snowed and a guy was skiing up the road into the basin! Reality: At 1 a.m., lightning was flashing sporadically to the west, but the sky was filled with stars (you really haven’t lived till you’ve seen that night sky – phenomenal), so I went back to sleep.
Woke up at 3:15 to rain tapping on the Jeep’s roof. I don’t recommend this, but I spent the rest of the night at the intersection at the county road … and woke up just before daylight to steady rain. If I hadn’t wanted to see my Grey-boy so badly, I’d have called it a day at 7 a.m. and headed for home. Yeah …
Long story short, I inched my way back into the basin but got stopped before the first “V” arroyo. The road was good till that point, but it took me awhile because I kept stopping to scan for horses. I stopped for good above that arroyo. By then, I had already spotted Steeldust’s band and the B7, and I had found Bounce, Alegre and Gaia way back in east park. So I had seen all but the one horse (and band) I wanted to see. It had stopped raining, and the sun had peeked through the clouds a couple of times, but huge dark clouds still loomed over the east ridge of the basin and back to the west. The length of looming almost had me convinced I could bike from there to see if I could find Grey/Traveler’s band around the far side of Lizard Mesa (east of Knife Ridge). Then I happened to spot something white far to the north.
Nine times out of 10, a white spot is a rock. The 10th time, you get lucky, and it’s Alpha, Houdini or Traveler. I grabbed the binoculars, and bingo, baby; there was my boy … and Houdini and Jif and Twister, and Two Boots and Iya, standing together under a tree. Did I say far to the north? I mean WAY far to the north. I mean way far northeastish of last August’s trap site. I mean so way far away I couldn’t see a way to get to them without a (really) long (long) hike.
About three minutes after I took some reference pictures, I checked the west clouds – uh oh. Big black cloud had become a grey sheet of rain. I really can’t stress enough to visitors that if it rains, you do NOT want to be in the basin OR on the road across private land that leads to the basin. You want to be on the good county road. I wouldn’t have so totally ignored my own advice – and believe me that it made me really nervous to be in the basin. But today is my birthday, and my birthday wish was to see my favorite boy. Wish granted.